Monday, August 13, 2007

Dance for Diversity, August 12, 2006

Dance for Diversity at the Alabama School of Fine Arts on August 12, 2006 has been reviewed by Michael Huebner for The Birmingham News:

Classical ballet could learn a thing or two from Bharatanatyam.

When it's done right, as it was Saturday at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, the ancient south Indian dance form can be mesmerizing, and it doesn't need to rely on athleticism, youthful vigor, leaps or arabesques to get its points across.

That may explain why a 72-year-old master such as C.V. Chandrasekar, the featured artist at "Dance for Diversity," can still communicate narratives as well as, if not better than, dancers a third his age.

Most of the program focused on the precise movements and varied facial expressions and hand positions that have entertained for thousands of years.

Sheila Rubin, director of Birmingham's Natyananda troupe, has trained her dancers well. In the opening blessing dance, five dancers carried lit candles as an offering to the elephant-headed god, Ganesha. They then unfolded a rich tapestry of subtle side-to-side neck movements and successions of hand, arm and leg limb positions, at times balancing precariously on one foot. The "Jatiswaram" that followed was a demonstration of Bharatanatyam poses and moves in its purest form.

Nothing in this concert could top Chandrasekar's seamless dancing in the solo, "Varnam: Rupamu Dzuchi." This Bharatanatyam classic has no story line; instead, it's driven by emotion and technique. Yet something in Chandrasekar's interpretation took it beyond that, to a kind of unexplainable spirituality.

The program's finale, a dance drama called "The Stonecutter," united seven dance traditions from groups in the Birmingham area. Although the segments varied in quality, the tale of jealousy, greed and their consequences was told concisely, with the help of Rubin's narration.

Stealing the show were Kisa Ogwaro in the title role and Jomo Xulu in the South African portion, whose high kicks seemed to reach to the sky.

Percussionists John Scalisi and Mark Freeman added just the right sonic touches.

Special thanks to everyone who was involved in the Dance for Diversity program, including: featured guest C.V. Chandrasekar, with Sheila Rubin, Robin Lai, Kalai Mugilan, Dheepa Sekar, Smriti Krishnan, Shilpa Boppana, Sushma Boppana, Kisa Ogwaro, Deborah Mauldin, Amelia O'Hare, Dario Irizarry, Susan Mwenja, Ramesh Subramaniyam, Natasha Cates, Anya Olinova, Natasha Russo, Rhonda Wharton, Sara Alvarez, Ilene Brill, Carl Cummins, Chalo Gurmendi, Peter Hanf, Corlyn Johnson, Beth Nicholson, Roswell Pfister, DeAnna Freeman, Liz Malcom, Wendi O'Kelley, Traci Smith, Colin Neel, Jomo Xulu and musicians John Scalisi and Mark Freeman, along with Mistress of Ceremonies Sadhna Malkani and all the wonderful coordinators, volunteers and sponsors.

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